The concept of speaking to where people are at is a common one, in my experience at least, within behaviour change communications and activism. Put simply, it’s the idea that in order for a message to resonate with someone it should be framed in a way that’s relevant to their personal context and values.
When it comes to climate change, unfortunately, the high degree of polarisation means that messaging often speaks only to one group of people. For left-leaning groups or those that simply realise the pressing need to address climate change, messages around the threats of climate change and the technological and economic advances of renewable energy and energy storage are compelling.
For right-leaning groups or people sceptical of climate change, similar messages fall on more deaf ears when compared, perhaps, to messages about the economic contribution of coal and concern over the loss of coal mining jobs.
If we want to compel national and global action on climate change we need to be able to create widespread support by convincing people based on their values. A great piece of recent research by Cardiff University and Climate Outreach suggests a way forward.
The study of 2000 UK residents found that narratives of climate change and energy that focused on climate justice had a polarising effect, appealing generally to left-leaning individuals. Narratives, on the other hand, of avoiding energy waste and supporting renewable energy as a patriotic cause not only reduced scepticism amongst right-leaning individuals but had a broader appeal across the political spectrum.
The clear takeaway is that climate advocates need to adopt narratives of patriotism and avoiding energy waste in order to increase support for renewable energy and climate action across the political spectrum, particularly on the centre-right. (This Superbowl ad from last year is a great example of patriotic, pro-renewables framing).
I would even go so far as to say that advocates should adopt the narratives of economic growth and job creation so often used by centre-right politicians to oppose renewables or climate action. This is the promise of adapting to the inevitable low-carbon economies of the future. Stated in another way, it is about inspiring people with the promise of renewable energy to provide prosperity and health for a nation and its people. For those on the centre right, it is about activating a shared sense of optimism and pride in their country and people (the national character perhaps) based on this promise.
It’s easy to forget, or not even realise, that support for renewable energy comes in all shapes and sizes and for very different reasons (this piece I wrote on support for renewables in unusual places expands on this). If we want to tackle climate change properly and grow renewable energy then we need to bring as many people along with us as possible. This means convincing people that these are things they need to care about – in other words, speaking to where people are at.
PS. Off the back of the study, Climate Outreach has produced a guide to communicating climate change with people on the centre-right in post-Brexit Britain. Here’s a summary of tips but it’s worth reading the guide (which isn’t too long) for more explanation:
- In the post-Brexit landscape amplify local, non-elite voices & the ‘will of the people’
- Emphasise people and relationships, over places, and a shared sense of pride and optimism in the people
- Frame new technology as preserving families and the environment (ie. not disruptive)
- Stress continuity not change (ie. continued progress of the nation through renewable energy)
- Emphasise simplicity and family activities/togetherness
- Make climate change impacts tangible and local (ie. emphasise local environmental problems)
- Nostalgia can be as powerful as a ‘bright future’ (ie. passing on the ‘clean’ world of one’s childhood to one’s children)
- Focus on ‘balance’ (ie. the importance of providing balance)
- Be humble about the claims of renewable energy’s potential.
(Photo at top: The Hamster Factor, Flickr)